Developer: Aspect Co., Ltd.
Release date: 1992
Available on: Unavailable
Batman Returns on the SEGA Master System is a game loosely based on the movie of the same name, chronicling the Caped Crusader’s journey to put crime lord Penguin out of commission. The game has many other ports, such as one for the Game Gear or the NES, but this article will focus on the Master System version. Like other Batman games of the time, Returns is a difficult arcade platformer. Though the simple gameplay is not a walk in the park, it is satisfying.
Batman’s arsenal includes a grappling hook and a Batarang which he can use to dispatch enemies. The grappling hook can also stick to many ceilings in a Spiderman-like fashion and swinging from ceiling to ceiling is a required skill to beat the game. Mastering the hook requires getting used to its short-range because if you use it too late you won’t latch into the ceiling and fall, but thankfully you can use your cape to glide and slow your fall. Swinging is very gratifying when done right!
The enemies are decent and extremely varied, with some employing different melee attacks while others use ranged weapons, though they do have a tendency to suddenly ambush you. They all take one Batarang hit to defeat, but you lose one life when you get hit. Batman walks slowly, which gives you a small window of time to react to agile enemies. There are bats in the stages that drop powerups which can upgrade your Batarang’s speed and range and give you extra lives. The game’s boss fights are very liberal in giving away lives, which should help you get further in the stages and the boss fights.
The game has five stages, each broken into two different routes that you can take at the beginning, with Route 1 being the easiest. Each route is broken into two sections and a boss fight, except for the final stage which has no routes, but contains a whopping four sections before the boss fight. You don’t need to play through the whole game if you get a game over, as Batman Returns allows you to restart from the beginning of the stage – a great mercy feature for all stages except for the final. If you get hit, you will respawn where you died or on the last platform you were standing on, getting you right back into action.
Graphics and music
Batman Returns for the Master System is detailed, with backgrounds that nail the balance between colorful and dark in the earlier stages. Some elements are even animated, like the giant waterfalls in the final stage. The pixel art for the individual characters also stands out, such as Batman’s animation when walking and how the cape moves with him. More impressive is how the developers managed this level of detail while keeping slowdowns a rarity on an early console.
The music isn’t what you’d expect of serious Batman films. The fast-paced music has an arcade feel to it, which puts it right at home with the gameplay. That said, the tunes Batman Returns has are excellent and exciting, perfect for swinging and fighting.
Batman Returns is a game that treads the line between Nintendohard and fair. The grappling hook can be a source of frustration, and enemies can use the surprise element when you can’t, but when you get used to the game, what’s left is a rewarding and satisfying game with a high level of challenge. Play Returns for the Master System if you want a forgiving but hard retro game.
Craving other tough-as-nails platformers with unlimited continues? Check out our Castlevania review! You can also read about other retro games here.